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January 05, 2018 | Blog Post| FAA Releases Drone Identification and Tracking Report that the FAA Will Consider in Drafting its Final Rule on In-Flight Drone Accountability

Law enforcement agencies want accountability when it comes to drone flights, especially when those flights are over people. Enabling a drone and its owner/operator to be quickly identified by law enforcement is necessary toward the expansion of the authorized use of drones to include flights over people and beyond the line of sight as well as the safe integration of drones in the national Airspace System. The Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Identification and Tracking Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) chartered by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) submitted its report and recommendations to the FAA on technologies available to identify and track drones in flight and other associated issues.[1] 

On December 19, 2017, the FAA released the report to the public, The report consists of a 213-page document in a .pdf format available on the FAA’s website.[2]  The report provided the FAA with useful data, including detailed technology evaluations and a comprehensive list of law enforcement needs and preferences.  Highlights of the recommendations include:

● The FAA should consider two methods for remote ID and tracking of drones: (1) direct broadcast (transmitting data in one direction only with no specific destination or recipient) and (2) network publishing (transmitting data to an internet service or group of services).  Both methods would send the data to an FAA-approved internet-based database.

● The data collected must include a unique identifier for unmanned aircraft, tracking information, and drone owner and remote pilot identification.

● The FAA should promote fast-tracked development of industry standards while a final remote ID and tracking rule is developed, potentially offering incentives for early adoption and relying on educational initiatives to pave the way to the implementation of the rule. 

● The FAA should implement a rule in three stages, with the ultimate goal that all drones manufactured or sold within the United States that comply with the rule must be so labeled.  The agency should allow a reasonable grace period to retrofit drones manufactured or sold before the final rule is effective.

● The FAA should coordinate any ID and tracking system with the existing air traffic control system and ensure it does not substantially increase workloads.

● The FAA should exempt drones operating under air traffic control or those operating under the agency’s discretion (public aircraft operations, security or defense operations, or with a waiver).

● The FAA must review privacy considerations, in consultation with privacy experts and other Federal agencies, including developing a secure system that allows for segmented access to the ID and tracking information.  Within the system, only persons authorized by the FAA (e.g., law enforcement officials, airspace management officials, etc.) would be able to access personally identifiable information.

The FAA is now considering the data and recommendations in crafting a final rule that will remove obstacles to advanced drone operations that include flights over people and beyond the pilot’s line of sight. The FAA will need to balance governmental needs and desires with the individual drone operator’s burdens, costs, and invasion-of-privacy concerns.


[1] Fed. Aviation Admin., FAA Releases UAS Remote Tracking & ID ARC Report, https://www.faa.gov/news/updates/?newsId=89404.

[2] See id.

Ryan K. Hilton

Ryan K. Hilton is a partner at Butler Weihmuller Katz Craig LLP in Tampa, Florida.  Ryan practices in our Aviation, Extra-Contractual, and Third-Party Coverage departments.

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